9 Alternatives to Drywall

Alternatives to Drywall

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Contrary to popular belief, not all walls need to be constructed from drywall. While it is a cheap and popular building material, there are other options that may be more appropriate for the desired look and feel of your home.

Highlighting their strengths in imperative criteria such as moisture, fire, and sound resistance, I have gathered a short list of traditional and non-traditional materials that can be used as an alternative to drywall.

What Is Drywall?

Drywall is a flat panel made from compressed gypsum sandwiched between two sheets of paper, designed for easy and versatile wall construction. It comes in sheets ranging from ¼ to ⅝” in thickness and either 4 x 8’, 4 x 10’, or 4 x 12’ sheets.

Drywall is adhered to framing studs using screws. The gaps in between butted sheets are sealed using a joint compound and paper or plastic mesh taping, which is then sanded to create a smooth surface. It can be left unfinished or painted thereafter.

Various types of specialty drywall treatments are available, including mold resistance, moisture resistance, fire resistance, and soundproofing. As these criteria will also be addressed in the materials listed below, here is a short review of each of these treatments:

  1. Mold resistance: Mold resistance helps avoid the buildup of mold in wet or humid areas. It is best suited for high-moisture areas, such as bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, and utility rooms.
  2. Moisture resistance: Similar to mold resistance, moisture resistance is best for areas and rooms that will be exposed to high moisture. These materials are designed to resist wear and degradation from long moisture exposure.
  3. Fire resistance: Fire resistance can either be achieved by a chemical coating or by the physical properties of the material used. It helps prevent the speed and spread of fire, along with creating less smoke than non-fire-resistant materials and treatments.
  4. Soundproofing: Soundproofing aims to reduce noise traveling through walls, floors, and ceilings. It either absorbs and/or dampens sounds.

9 Alternatives to Drywall

Surprisingly, there’s a wide variety of alternatives to drywall available on the market. From traditional plaster to budget-friendly plywood, below you can find a brief introduction to each material, its strengths, and any drawbacks to consider.

1. Lath and Plaster

A classic option, lath and plaster, is made from several layers of plaster laid over a base of thin wooden slats. Lath and plaster was the common method for wall construction up until the early to the mid-20th century when it was replaced by drywall.

This material is best suited for inside walls or ceilings and offers excellent soundproofing and fire resistance. Additional insulation and soundproofing can be added using woodchip clay infill behind the lath, which is a slurry of clay soil mixed with wood chips or long wood shavings.

This type of wall is often found in older homes and is a pricey project, costing as much as $10 or more per square foot for a professional installation.

2. Blueboard and Veneer Plaster

Blueboard is very similar to drywall. It is made from pressed flat sheets of gypsum and backed by a thick, blue paper covering. This covering is specially formulated to bond to plaster.

This material is first installed, like drywall, by screwing it into wall studs. Then, after taping and mudding, the entire surface is veneered with a few thin coats of plaster about ⅛” thick. Blueboard is designed for non-fire-rated applications and requires a coating for a finished look.

This is a great option for durable walls, as plaster is a harder surface than drywall and is less likely to scratch or dent. It is more costly than drywall installation, ranging from 20 to 30 percent more than drywall. The price increases when accounting for the labor and material required for the plaster veneer.

If this sounds like a material you want to consider, read my detailed comparison of drywall and blueboard.

3. Brick and Brick Veneer

Exposed brick in interior walls is not only durable but is also a powerful statement piece in your home. As brick isn’t a modern construction material, true brick walls are becoming a rare discovery in freestanding homes. A cost-effective alternative to adding brick after initial construction is brick veneer.

This material is made from thin slices of real brick that are typically ½ to 1” in thickness, though they can be found as thick as 1 ¼”. The veneer is available in individual brick slices that are adhered to the wall using Thinset mortar. Brick veneer panels made from polystyrene foam are a popular alternative to achieve the brick look at a lower cost and effort.

With the elevated look of brick come some drawbacks. Brick is a porous material, so it can be subject to moisture issues if you live in a particularly humid environment. It is also less energy efficient than drywall and other options available, which should also be taken into consideration.

For materials and labor, brick veneer installation can run between 4-10 dollars per square foot. Brick paneling can run between 1.40-16.00 dollars per square foot, depending on the material of the prefabricated panel.

4. Wood Wool Board

Also known as wood fiberboard, wood wool board is a natural building material made of fine softwood fibers (1-3 millimeters long) mixed with a cement or magnesium-based binding agent in a water solution. The composite is then molded into boards and compressed while the binding agent solidifies and hardens.

These panels are installed directly onto the studs using nails or screws. Developed in the late 1930s, wood wool board is a lesser-known sustainable construction material that is known for its insulating properties, soundproofing, and impressive fire resistance.

The surface of this material is quite textured, so plaster is typically used to achieve a smooth finish. As this is a less common material, it is hard to find in a traditional hardware store and requires special orders.

5. Cement Board

Cement board can also be found under the brand name Durock. The boards are made from cement-bonded particle boards and fiber cement. Some cement boards use wood flakes as reinforcement, while others use cellulose (plant extract) fibers.

The boards are thin, typically between ¼ to 1 ½” in thickness, and are found in smaller 3 x 5’ panels. Cement board is typically used as a backer board for tile and offers excellent moisture and mold resistance.

These panels are heavy, which is why they are constructed in smaller sheets. They are not recommended for ceiling applications and do require a covering, such as tile, brick veneer, or stucco. They are also extremely cost-effective, at below 1 dollar per square foot as of 2022.

I wrote a detailed comparison between drywall and cement board here. I also wrote an article about how to cut Durock.

6. Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic

Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic (FRP) panels are solid, thin plastic panels that are designed for moisture resistance and rot durability. Thicknesses range from 1/16 to 3/8” and are found in a wide variety of panel sizes.

These panels are designed as a cover for backing such as cement board or moisture-resistant drywall. Some varieties come adhered to corrugated backings and are designed as stand-alone wall panels for use in basements, bathrooms, and high-moisture areas.

FRP panels are scratch and stain-resistant, and installation is a fast and easy process. These panels are also budget-friendly, costing approximately 40 dollars for a 4 x 8’ panel at the time this article was published.

7. Pegboard

In areas where environmental resistance isn’t a requirement (like exterior walls), pegboard can be a functional statement wall. These panels are typically ¼’ thick with a standard dimension of 24 x 48”. Wood pegboard is often the most expensive type due to its attractive finish. The panels also come in steel or metal.

These panels are screwed into the studs and are highly versatile in their use. The high price tag can be offset by the high decorative reward from workbenches to storage walls to wall-mounted plants.

The price for pegboard highly varies based on the material used, but for an 8 x 12’ wall, expect to pay a minimum of $238 – $275.

8. MDF

MDF, or medium-density fiberboard, is made from a pulp of hard- and softwood, combining the pulp with resin, and setting it into a sheet under high pressure and temperature. The surface of MDF is smooth and consistent, which is easy to paint and visually pleasing. This material should not be used in applications where it will be subject to moisture, which will cause it to swell and warp.

Square footage for walls made of MDF can run as low as 1.50 dollars per square foot at approximately 45 dollars for a ½” x 4 foot x 8’ panel.

For more information, read my MDF vs. drywall article.

9. Plywood

The final option on this list, plywood is a budget-friendly drywall alternative appropriate for projects that don’t require a polished look. Plywood panels are available between 1/4 and 1-1/2” in thickness.

Panels are typically 4 x 8’, with a price point that varies based on the quality of the wood face. Plywood is often used for subfloor and architectural applications that will be covered with another material, like siding, paint, flooring, etc.

Different treatments are available for plywood, such as pressure treatment for moisture resistance or pre-finishing for a visible wood look. Plywood prices can be volatile depending on the wood market, but a 4 x 8 sheet can cost between 35-50 dollars.

If you want to learn about how plywood compares with drywall in more detail, check this article.

What Is the Best Alternative to Drywall for Basement Walls?

Basement installations require moisture and mold-resistant wall material due to being at or below the water table. The two most appropriate materials for basement walls are cement board and FRP.

Cement board is the more cost-effective of the two materials, but as mentioned above, it is designed to be covered with another layer. FRP, while thin and offering little insulation (making for a cold basement), is prefinished. This may offset the extra cost of a decorative finish required on cement board.

What Is the Best Alternative to Drywall for Ceilings?

With its superior soundproofing and insulation properties, wood wool board, or fiberboard, is an excellent alternative to drywall for ceilings. This is especially true in multi-story homes or co-ops that need sound protection between floors.

Often, wood wool boards can be found in soundproofing panels, further demonstrating their commercial effectiveness in reducing sound transmission. Finally, its fire resistance offers peace of mind in protecting your home, should disaster strike.

What Is the Best Waterproof Alternative to Drywall?

Being made of plastic, Fiberglass Reinforced Panel (FRP) is the best waterproof alternative. Proper installation combined with adequate sealing and caulking makes for a secure, sealed waterproof environment.

As it is also mold resistant, this makes for an excellent product in areas that will consistently be exposed to moisture, such as bathrooms, kitchens, utility rooms, and even home saunas.

What Is the Cheapest Drywall Alternative?

At around 1.50 dollars per square foot, plywood is the second least expensive of the drywall alternatives mentioned in this article. Cement board, or Durock, is the least costly overall, though due to its thin profile and extra weight, it’s not suggested to use as a full-room alternative to drywall like plywood.

Should You Use Drywall or One of the Alternatives?

Whether you should use drywall or one of the alternatives listed above depends on a number of factors that only you can answer. Below are a few questions you should ask yourself when weighing your decision.

Aside from meeting the criteria discussed in this article (water resistance, fire resistance, etc.), this is a highly personal process with often no true right or wrong response.

What Are You Building?

When building a shower, bathroom, or sauna, a drywall alternative should absolutely be used. Though drywall is available with moisture- and mold-resistant treatments, any direct water contact should be avoided. If used alongside a proper moisture barrier, drywall can be an acceptable option, though other materials are more appropriate for these builds.

What Is Your Budget?

In projects where budget is not an issue, there are some excellent drywall alternatives in this article; primarily plaster and wood fiber. These options fell out of fashion in modern construction due to the time and money required for proper application.

These alternatives are superior to drywall in durability, fire resistance, and soundproofing, making them a better product overall. Your maintenance budget also needs to be addressed in this question. In cases where a hole needs to be repaired in a lath and plaster wall, one needs to consider whether they have the money to hire a professional in the future or the time and skills to tackle the job on their own.

What Is Your Desired Aesthetic?

Any material used to create walls will affect the overall aesthetic of your project. Texture and material make a huge difference. For a modern industrial look, exposed brick is an excellent material. For a clean, functional, and non-traditional look, pegboard may be appropriate. If you desire a high-end polished look, plaster or plaster veneer is likely your best option.

This is a highly personal question, the answer to which may change over time. If you feel that you may change your mind in the future, drywall may be the best option regarding the overall budget and versatility. You can change the look of drywall with paint or wallpaper, but that may be significantly harder with brick or pegboard.


We’ve reviewed nine alternatives, common and not, to drywall and discussed appropriate applications for each material. Are you building a basement room that requires soundproofing, or perhaps adding an enclosure in your bathroom for a steam room?

Regardless of your answer, you should now be armed with more knowledge to help you make a decision on whether drywall is the appropriate material for your wall structure.